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NEWS FLASH!
November 17, 2004 — Tim Boelter, Jon Otto, and Ma Yihua all successfully reached the summit of Siguniang.

This marks only the second successful summit bid by an American. And it’s the first time a Chinese climber has reached the top of Siguniang.

November 24, 2004 – Jon describes the summit bid
November 23, 2004 – Final thoughts from Tim

November 17, 2004 – One final push upwards
November 16, 2004 – The curse of Siguniang audio file
November 15, 2004 – Snow forces retreat
November 14, 2004 – Heavy snow, avalanches halt progress audio file
November 13, 2004 – Another night of tenuous sleep audio file
November 13, 2004 – First summit team getting close audio file
November 12, 2004 – Reporting from a perilous perch on the ridge
November 12, 2004 – Getting ready for the summit bid audio file
November 10, 2004 – Tim plummets into crevasse audio file
November 8, 2004 – Unexpected rest day audio file

November 7, 2004 – More avalanche detail audio file
November 6, 2004 – Avalanches
November 4, 2004 – Rest day on the glacier audio file
November 3, 2004 – Avalanche disrupts dispatch

November 3, 2004 – The Chinese team
November 2, 2004 – Heading up to 16,200 feet
October 30, 2004 – Setting up basecamp, porter strike audio file
October 28, 2004 – Packing for the climb
October 27, 2004 – Arriving in Chengdu

 

It was an exciting summit day. Tim made record time by flashing up the fixed lines from glacier camp in one mighty push. Ma Yihua became the first Chinese citizen to summit Siguniang. And I just led the whole way to the summit. Ma and I left C2 at 9:30AM. Ok, a little late, but the winds suddenly died and gave us a window of opportunity. The last 5 days or so we had constant heavy, erratic winds and a bunch of snow. It was either blowing or snowing. If it was blowing it was generally sunny but the winds were so heavy that it was not possible to climb. When the winds stopped it would start snowing like crazy and that put a cap on going any higher. This cycle was wearing down the team. The winds brought in bitter cold temperatures, winter had come to Siguniang.

I started to get anxious and on November 16. Ma, Gang, Tim, and me decided to go C2 to wait out the weather. The winds were at least bearable this day. We were all getting cabin fever sitting around glacier camp. Other team members thought I was a little nuts, that it was just to f***ing cold. Gang turned around below the icefall because he could not feel his feet and Tim decided to rest because his knee was hurting badly, I think. I arrived C2 in 4+ hours, made some brew and waiting for Ma. It turned dark and still no Ma. The winds got stronger. Finally, two hours after dark Ma arrives at camp smiling. I think his brain froze. Ma may climb slowly, but he sure is tough...and persistent. 

Wind blew all night but the next morning around 9AM everything suddenly calmed down. Siguniang was giving us our chance. Ma and I headed out and Tim said on the radio that he was coming up. The summit beckoned and the knee a bit better. I slowly made new tracks along a part of the ridge called the ‘Pearl Necklace’. It’s wavy top, funky rounded cornices and steep sides give it the appearance of lined up pearls. Well, just 30 minutes from C2 I walked to close to the top of one of the ‘pearls’ and sent it tumbling 3000 feet down with me dangling from the fixed line, one foot on either side of the ridge. These last few days of snow and wind made the cornices unstable. Another 30 yards along the ridge I invariantly cracked off another huge cornice. Watching the immensity of snow and ice hurdle down the face, gaining speed at an incredible rate is very pacifying. The power of the mountain is right there in your face and you feel your place here is so insignificant and so easily altered. But, the summit lay ahead and we were again on our way.

We left the fixed line behind at 6130 meters and started a running belay for the top. We made the summit when I broke through a small cornice at 4:30PM on November 17 and found that I could not climb any higher. I waved my ice tools at Ma and Tim below in excitement. I threw a picket in sideways in the soft snow and belayed up Ma and Tim. It was cold. The wind was blowing. The sun started to dip below a range of 5000-meter peaks in the west. It was beautiful. Ma and I hastily pulled sponsor flags from our packs, took pictures, and then got ready to descend. Tim filmed but couldn't keep his hands out of his gloves for very long before loosing all feeling in his fingers. All three of us were loosing body heat rapidly.

We rapped off the picket and again four more times to the top of the fixed line. We reached the fixed line at dark. From here Tim dashed off back to glacier camp to complete his marathon 8000 vertical meters of climbing that day (4000 up, 4000 down). Quite a feat. Ma and me made our way back to C2 for another night on the ridge sleeping in our harnesses clipped off to our lifeline. We promised the other members that we would wait there for them to summit the following day. On the way down in the night the slit of a moon gave us just enough light to see the summit silhouetted against a dark sky. In the distance the lights from Chengdu, a city of 9 million, radiated from the valley clouds in a huge circle. A surreal experience.

When we arrived at C2 Kang Hua, Chen, and Gang were there. The next morning the three of them left at 7:30AM for the summit. Couldn’t have asked for better weather on November 18. We watched them from C2 as they efficiently made the summit by noon. We broke down C2 that afternoon and rapped down to glacier camp and BC. I stayed behind to take down the fixed line on the couloir. I broke down line way into the evening only to arrive glacier camp at 9:30PM. There was something meditative about working alone by headlamp in the quiet of the night. Mountains move during the day (avalanches, rock fall, wind, cracking) and become quiet during the night (everything freezes). The serene on the slopes of a mountain are a moment all of themselves not found anywhere else.

We left BC for Chengdu on November 19. It was snowing lightly and the mountain socked in with clouds. Very appropriate, I thought. The mountain gave us two summit days and that was it. That was all we needed. We hobbled down to Rilong town and then took a minivan back to Chengdu. Tim’s knee finally gave away and going downhill was awfully painful. Both Ma and me had cold injured feet. I think it will take a couple months for my toes to recover. We arrived Chengdu at 11PM after 5 hours of walking, 2 hours on a horse, and 7 hours in a most uncomfortable vehicle, and then went straight to the Shamrock bar for burgers and beer.

What a climb. I would do it all over again.

Cheers, climb safe, Jon Otto

 

In August of 2003 my friend Jon Otto and his business partner Ma Yihua—both owners of the Arete Alpine Instruction Center (AAIC)—and their young Tibetan guide-in-training, Wangping, embarked on an alpine style attempt of Siguniang the Fourth Maiden. Within two days of leaving Rilong Town, the small gateway village to the newly established Four Girls Mountain Nature Reserve, we reached the base of the Japanese Couloir, our proposed route. The couloir was devoid of snow and ice, exposing lose and unstable rock. All around us the sound of small rock and snow avalanches poured from the high ridge that formed an amphitheatre around us. The mountain was crumbling down before us as the structural element of ice and snow melted away weakening the bonding agent that held everything together.

It was a year of heat waves that wreaked havoc on the Alps in Europe and stretched as far east as Asia. Massive melt off reduced glaciers in size throughout Europe leaving popular climbs and treks on the famous peaks unstable and dangerous with continuous rock fall.

This would become our fate on Siguniang in 2003. On our third day of the expedition we started to climb the snow pyramid at the base of the couloir. Jon climbed out front as I started to shoot video. Although rock fall was prominent all around us—the couloir had been quiet during the two days of observation from our glacier camp. But this would change with a familiar sound from above us. I pointed the camera up the route only able to see perhaps 30 meters above the vertical bottom section. The sound of small rocks bouncing down the gully concerned me, but within seconds the sound grew into a deafening roar. Looking through the viewfinder I waited for the inevitable, and then the sight of huge boulders bouncing erratically and with tremendous speed descended upon us. I yelled to warn Jon as I tried to continue filming while tripping over my own feet backing up. I fell into a void in the snow, but quickly stood up. Jon was right below the massive barrage of rock fall, standing motionless with his axes out to his sides as if playing dodge ball—ready to veer to the left or the right. The slide lasted for minutes and it was a miracle that we both were not hit. Needless to say we got the hell out of there and descended to camp. We came to the general consensus that the route was just too dangerous to climb. Of course we came up with plan B, which was to traverse around the ridgeline and ascend the glacier on the opposite side and regain the ridge from there.

The next morning we woke to a loud cracking jolt from below us, our camp settled about an inch on the glacier. The sounds of rock fall were now mixed with the pitter-patter of sleet hitting the fabric of our tent. In the drizzling sleet we packed up camp and made our way down and around the ridge. By nightfall we set up another camp on the east-side glacier. All four of us piled into a cramped tent and brewed water and ate. The next morning was just as ugly as the day before. In fact everyday was overcast, the mountain didn’t even seem to exist outside the blanket of whiteness that enveloped its slopes. The day was windy with a mix of sleet and snow. We pushed up the steep ice slope toward the ridge. To our dismay the ridge was in a torrent of wind and to add to our dismay, it was as close to a knife-edge as it gets. One side just dropped away into the white abyss.

For the next nine hours we labored upward in blowing sleet and snow. The ridge was unrelenting without even a mild flat spot to stand. Every belay required protection, either ice screws or pickets. At times a foot of loose snow had to be excavated just to get a good screw in. By the time the sky started to show signs of night fall we were becoming desperate to find a place to put up a tent. It was obvious that the ridge would never relent. We resorted to piling into a cramped fissure where the glacier melted away from the rocky ridge that dropped off who knows how far because it was just white all around us. That night we slept under a tent fly strung up above our heads in a cave to stop the dripping water from drenching us. The next morning Ma Yihua, Wangping and Jon woke with soaked sleeping bags. Fortunately I slept on a very uncomfortable reclined rock that kept me up off the ground sparing my bag from being saturated with water. It was obvious we had to descend, and that we did. Twelve hours later we arrived at our base camp, exhausted, wet and ready to go home.

In 2003, although the weather never exposed the beauty of Siguniang while we were actually on her slopes, I was fortunate to be graced by the beauty of the Fourth Maiden for one day. While waiting in Rilong Town I climbed to the ridgeline just out of town and spent a day up where the horses graze by Buddhist chortens. From this vantage point I captured on video the beauty this area offers. It was obvious we had to come back…

Our first trip to Siguniang was an alpine style attempt. This year (2004) we climbed with the intention of getting ourselves up along with five of China’s most notable climbers. This meant fixing over 1,200 meters of rope, which Jon Otto was responsible for and he did an incredible job.

Siguniang has been climbed by four other teams: two from Japan, a very notable British ascent by Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden, and an American ascent by Charlie Fowler. Until this year, the Chinese had not climbed this revered mountain and many Chinese believed it wasn’t possible. The success of this climb put six team members on top, two Americans and four Chinese.

I have climbed on some Himalayan giants including Everest and Cho Oyu, and have endured the frigid temperatures of Denali, but the cold, the winds, and the continuous dangers of avalanches on the slopes of Siguniang added a different dimension of difficulty. For me the trip had its difficulties, perhaps I should have worn double boots instead of single leathers, my feet are still slightly swollen and without feeling. I may have underestimated the challenges of Siguniang, but why would I do such a thing? Perhaps I didn’t learn from 2003.  “Siguniang has a curse,” says Chen Junchi to me while we’re being battered by continuous winds and avalanches. Yes it does, I thought. But we beat the curse. On November 17th I departed glacier camp (16,200 feet) at 10:00 am for the end of the fixed lines, my intentions were to reach the top of the fixed lines and film. At approximately 3:30 pm Jon and Ma Yihua were just within sight on the upper face of the mountain. I could see Jon waving his hand motioning me to hurry. And I did, by 4:30 pm I could see Jon cresting the final snow ridge. His pack lit up from the sunlight hitting it and I knew he was on top. He turned and looked down and then both arms went into the air, it was the top.

After seven hours of continuous climbing I stepped on top to join Ma Yihua and Jon Otto. One year ago we descended this mountain wet, tired and defeated, today it was three of the original four standing on the summit in celebration. But it would be quick, I was losing all feeling in my toes, and my fingers quickly went numb after shooting video on top. The sun was retiring for the day and the thought of climbing down in the bitter cold night wasn’t sounding too exciting. The moon was about a quarter full and helped illuminate the slopes and even added certain warmth to the inhospitable place. Jon and Ma stayed at the ridge camp, but I had to continue down to glacier camp 2,000 feet below. Chen Junchi, Kang Hua, and Chenzi Gang all came up to the ridge camp during the day, with only a two-man tent and a three-man precariously perched on a knife edge there was no room for me. I arrived at glacier camp at 9:30 pm, took off my boots and quickly realized that my feet had the telltale signs of frostbite. They were white, waxy and as hard as a piece of wood. But aside from that—because I only ate a few steamed bread balls for breakfast, one Snickers bar and one Gu during the course of the whole day—my legs started having severe cramps. So severe that I couldn’t even walk to my tent.

All in all I managed. Jon on the other hand suffered from a combination of frostbite and severe trauma to both his big toes. By the time we arrived in Chengdu, Jon’s toes were almost black. We went to the Chengdu Third Peoples Hospital where they decided that he needed skin grafts. Jon is currently seeking multiple opinions from doctors here in the States, and will be waiting a few weeks before making a decision on the surgery, which is what all the books suggest.

The climb was a great success and the footage I have seen looks very promising. I would like to extend a sincere thank you to all that have followed this adventure. I would like to thank my wife Holly Boelter for her tireless support in putting this website together at the last minute without any consultation from us and for transcribing difficult satellite phone messages every day. I would like to extend a special thanks to Jon Otto for his incredible strength and determination for getting up this mountain. Jon is no doubt one of the great climbers in the world, and his lack of ego and easy going nature make him one of the best partners I have climbed with. Jon always looks after the wellbeing of the expedition as a whole rather than just himself. It’s good to be home, the Chinese food was great, but I think I have had enough of rice, cabbage and sheep for one year.

Tim Boelter

 

It’s Wednesday, November 17th at 9:30 a.m. and I’m getting my crampons and harness on to begin my climb up Siguniang from glacier camp. Jon Otto and Ma Yihua spent the night at the ridge camp and plan to try for the summit today.

There are fixed lines all the way up to 200 feet short of the summit. So I can safely clip into the line and climb up by myself. But once I get to the end of the fixed line I won’t be able to continue up without a partner. So I won’t be able to reach the summit. But hopefully I’ll get within 200 feet.

Last night was the coldest night we’ve had yet. It was windy and brutal. Today the skies are clear but it’s still extremely windy and cold.

We are all planning to leave the mountain tomorrow, so however far we climb today will be our high point. I will be bringing the satellite phone with me up the mountain, so I hope to provide another update from higher up.

Tim Boelter

 

audio fileListen to Tim’s voice dispatch from the mountain (2.7 MB MP3 file)

Hi. This is Tim Boelter reporting from glacier camp on Siguniang. It’s November 16, 2004. Last night we were going to depart camp at 2:00 a.m. for a summit attempt from this camp directly. But we awoke to snow again and thundering avalanches off in the distance.  So we went back to sleep. We awoke again at 8 o’clock this morning and the winds were extremely high. In fact, it felt like the tent was going to rip apart.

We are now down to the wire with people having to leave. And Jon Otto today decided that in the blistering wind — which you may hear behind me — to depart up the mountain. We have three guys going up the mountain hopefully to get to the ridge camp.

A lot of the Chinese here that are remaining in camp are concerned about this group going up in these conditions. It’s very important that the Chinese reach the summit of Siguniang. And it is important for Jon Otto to be a part of that. I, however, don’t know what’s going to happen here. These winds could continue for the next two or three days. They do say we’re going to have a clearing, but they said that two days ago and all we’ve had is snow and wind. The temperatures are extremely cold here.

We have one Chinese climber with frostbitten toes that was complicated by front pointing into the ice. He cannot continue. Another Chinese climber has a very bad throat condition. He cannot continue. Technically we are down to one Chinese climber plus Ma Yihua who is also Chinese but works with AAIC, which is Jon’s company.

My camera is now beginning to malfunction after many years of going to altitude and extreme cold. It is not working properly. I may not be able to get footage from the summit or even from the Pearl Necklace, which disappoints me.

I am going to try to go up today in these conditions. I will make the right decision if I feel the frostbite coming on. Also I have had a traumatic head injury early this year, which I have to take into consideration with the conditions up here and how I’ve been feeling.

All in all, Jon Otto has been doing an incredible job on this mountain. He deserves a lot of accolades.

We probably will be departing the mountain on November 18th. Time is running out. And the camp on the ridge could be destroyed by the high winds. So who knows what’s going to happen at this point.

It still is an incredible story and there still will be a film. But it is disappointing that Siguniang has this curse on us.

Tim Boelter

 

Hi. This is Tim Boelter reporting from glacier camp with the latest dispatch. On the morning of the 14th we awoke to a mountain encased in a snowy tomb. It snowed all day and beyond the whiteness of camp you could hear the roar of avalanches pouring off of every couloir.

Jon, Chen, and Kang were going to the summit, but the weather was too bad to continue. So they evacuated the ridge camp and descended the fixed line in an on and off whiteout condition.

The snow continued into nightfall and the total accumulation was about two feet. It was very disappointing for the summit team to get within 200 meters from the summit and have to descend.

Today is the 15th of November and everyone is back in glacier camp. Once again we awoke to extremely high winds, which actually ripped the fabric from the whole length of the zipper on our tent vestibule. So, in essence, all the spindrift blows in and covers us.

Tomorrow Jon, Chen, and I will leave glacier camp at 7:00 a.m. and attempt to go all the way to the summit and back. This is a huge task, but we are running out of time. And the weather forecast predicts that there will only be one nice day, and that is tomorrow.

Expedition members have to leave the expedition for prior commitments. And it is important to reach the summit before the 18th, which gives us three days.

Tim Boelter

 

audio fileListen to Tim’s voice dispatch from the mountain (1.9 MB MP3 file)

Hello. This is Tim Boelter reporting from glacier camp on Siguniang. It’s November 14th. We awoke to sagging tents and about a foot of snow on the ground. It’s still snowing. It is predicted to snow until tomorrow afternoon then the skies will clear up for the next four days. This does pose a problem because at this time we have avalanches careening off the ridges and faces around camp. It’s almost a virtual whiteout here. This is the worst snowfall we’ve had yet.

Going up to the ridge in the next two days will be very difficult. We will be postholing again and it will make our summit bid very hard.

Jon Otto, Kang Hua, and Chen are up at the ridge, Camp II, at about 18,750 feet. They too are getting snow. However, the weather is actually warm now because of the front that is coming through. That’s the one positive thing.

We don’t know how our summit bids will turn out. Jon, Chen, and Kang Hua did not make the summit yesterday. They were about, I would say, 700 vertical feet short of reaching the summit, maybe less than that. Almost half way up the summit wall.

Things are getting kind of boring here. I speak very little Chinese and it’s tough for me to communicate. I’ve had nothing but rice, cabbage, and sheep for the last few weeks for dinner. And that’s getting old too. So I do look forward to having a little bit more variety in my meals.

Everything is OK. I will be reporting as things change. But for now we are snowed in, it’s a whiteout, avalanches. That’s it for now.

Tim Boelter

 

audio fileListen to Jon’s voice dispatch from the mountain (2.6 MB MP3 file)

This is the third night of sleeping in my harness hooked into a static line. The static line runs through the front of the tent and out the rear window. The two ends are tied off to ice screws outside. The tent is precariously balanced on a four-foot-wide flat section of the snowy ridge that we dug out a few days ago. Either side is over 2,500 vertical feet down. If you fell you would not stop until you reached the valley floor below on one side of the ridge or the glacier on the other side of the ridge. The idea of the static line is that if the snow under the tent gives way and we go tumbling down either side, the tent and climber will at least be caught before they go tumbling down — although you’d feel very uncomfortable to be hanging there with no shoes or anything.

Last night there were heavy winds that continued into the morning and we had overcast skies today. So we got a late start. And it was also oh so very cold up here on the ridge, our ridge camp, Camp II.

But we finished fixing the section of the route called the Pearl Necklace, which is just some of the ridge that is steep on each side, shit snow, real corniced. So we’re glad to get through that. We also made it about half way up the main summit wall, which was not as steep as I thought, maybe something around 45 degrees. The snow was also better. I could get good placement with the pick of my ice tools because the snow was hard enough. But I had to change back to my reliable Black Prophet tools because on my newer tools the screws rattled lose and the head came lose from pounding pitons.

Now what to do when nature calls #2 and you’re tied into your harness 24 hours a day wearing Gore-Tex bibs. Well, I’ll stay clear of the details, but it did work out. It did so while I was hanging from my daisy chain from an ice screw on the summit wall. And it would have looked pretty amusing to an observer who I hope was not Tim filming up at my rear at that moment.

Tim has been doing tons of filming and is coming up tomorrow with two other members. They are going to spend the night here at the ridge camp and then try for the summit.

If the weather is good tomorrow we’re going to take off about 8:00 a.m. Chen, Kang, and me — the three of us — are going to try for the summit tomorrow. So we’ll all see how this works out.

Jon Otto

 

audio fileListen to Tim’s voice dispatch from the mountain (1 MB MP3 file)

Hi. This is Tim Boelter reporting from glacier camp on Siguniang. It’s 2:58 Saturday, November 13th. At this time I am watching through the camera as three of our team members are making their final stretch towards the summit. Clouds are moving in and it is getting quite windy down here at the glacier camp. Jon Otto, Kang Hua, and Chen are on their way to the summit.

This morning we all woke to very, very high winds. I did not go up in the high winds; I stayed here. Tomorrow there’s three more of us hopefully going up: Gang, Ma, and Tim Boelter.

The weather is getting bad right now and we’re hoping for the best for these summiteers. That’s just a quick dispatch to let you know what’s going on right now. As things develop we will let you know.

Tim Boelter

 

From Camp II at 19,140 feet

We got here to the high camp yesterday. Two days ago the whole team went up to this point carrying stuff. Cao Jun and I came up to stay up here confident that we’d find a decent place to camp.

We finished fixing 200 meters of fixed line along the ridge. When I got to the end of that fixed line I let out another 100 meters of line. The ridge I wouldn’t say got flatter, but it got less steep. But the sides of the ridge got a little steeper, and became more and more knife-like.

We finished late in the day and eventually I found a spot on the ridge that wasn’t corniced and started digging in with a shovel. I was shoveling snow off of both sides of the ridge. One side is probably 80 degrees with rock and snow. The side we’re climbing is 70 to 80 degrees. I was trying to level off the top of the ridge enough to put a tent on. We were able to level it off enough to put up a two-man MSR Fury tent. But each side still overlapped a little bit on each side of the ridge. We fastened it down with ice screws and put a rope inside the tent, through the tent, and slept inside with our harnesses clipped in just in case the ridge gave way.

Today Cao Jun and I continued up to the point that’s called the Pearl Necklace. That was probably the most difficult part. While the ridge is flat it keeps getting steeper and steeper on the sides—at one point up to almost 90 degrees.

The snow up here is very grainy with ice crystals. So when you hit with your ice axe you can’t get a good hold, and it’s a little too hard to get the shaft in all the way. It’s a little, how would you say, uncertain. About two to three feet under this grainy snow is great ice. So I’ve come to climbing with a shovel. And when I want to put in protection I’ll just take the shovel and start digging like crazy to get to the good ice because it’s a lot faster than digging with the axe or an ice tool.

We were able to get across most of the Pearl Necklace, which is covered with huge cornices on it in mushroom-type shapes. It’s almost easier to walk right up on top of the ridge right near the cornices.

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll get over to the main wall. From there there would only be something like a 1,000 vertical feet to the summit.

Right now I’m in the tent here, laying in my sleeping bag in my harness. Today two of the Chinese climbers came up and we set up another tent. We’ll all be going across the ridge again tomorrow. And hopefully, if the conditions are good, we’re going to try for the summit.

Jon Otto

 

audio fileListen to Tim’s voice dispatch from the mountain (1.1 MB MP3 file)

Hi. This is Tim Boelter reporting from glacier camp at 16,200 feet. It’s Friday, November 12th. Yesterday the wind subsided. We had some hellacious winds for two days. It’s a sign that winter is hitting the area.

Five of us did make a sortie up the 2,000-foot Japanese Couloir from camp to cache gear and tents. Jon Otto and Cao Jun spent the night at the ridge. And today they are hoping to fix line across the Pearl Necklace. From this point it’s up the steep face to the summit.

Today three people will be going up and they will be setting a tent up on the ridge. Hopefully tomorrow they will be making a summit bid. I will be going up the day after to make my summit bid.

We are at the expiration date of the expedition. Most people have to get back to business as usual between the 14th and the 17th. So we’re hopefully going to get the summit in the next few days.

Tim Boelter

 

audio fileListen to Tim’s voice dispatch from the mountain (4 MB MP3 file)

It’s Wednesday, November 10th about in 1:45 our time here on Siguniang. Last night it snowed profusely. We got about eight more inches of snow. Today the winds were gusting probably at 50 miles an hour — just a miserable day. The sun is out, but a group that was going to go up is not going to go up today.

Yesterday Jon, Cao Jun, and myself continued to fix lines across the corniced ridge about two thirds of the way to the place that is called the “Pearl Necklace.” This section is the steepest part of the ridge because it is a true knife edge and very steep. From there the summit face juts upward about 1,300 feet.

We have now made four trips up the Japanese Couloir from our glacier camp. This is a 2,000-foot section with 50-degree snow and ice. Once at the top of the ridge, we traverse to the left on a slope that ranges from 60 and 70 degrees in verticality. And the exposure is absolutely magnificent.

We’ve had some great days for climbing, but we are in a weather pattern that usually dumps between five to eight inches of new powder every three days. What this means is that aside from the continuous avalanches for up to two days after the snowfall we again have to posthole up to base of the route, which is the steep icefall, which is about 30 feet to 40 feet high. This can take some people two hours just to get to the base.

The temperature here vacillates between 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 degrees below zero at night. During the day when the sun is out it gets quite warm, but even when the clouds block the sun the temperature will drop 15 degrees or more. Although the sun rises between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m., it does not reach our camp until 10:30 because of a ridge. Which means getting up early at seven o’clock in the morning to go on these sorties up the mountain is very difficult. We try to get going up the mountain at eight o’clock in the morning but usually the cold prevents an on-time departure.

Yesterday on the way down I was the first one coming down the slopes. We have a descent route that we take. As I was coming down the route we all knew there was a crevasse (which is also known as a bergschrund) apparent on the route. But up until my descent this crevasse has never faltered us.  I was sitting on my butt glissading down and I was swallowed up by this crevasse. A huge gaping hole broke open and myself and about a ton of snow went down into the crevasse. It scared the hell out of me. I had no idea how far I was going. I had visions of Touching the Void. I was very fortunate to land on an ice shelf seven feet below the surface. While I did plummet into the bergschrund I was able to get myself out no problem.

I was really concerned about Cao Jun and Jon coming down so I stayed up and we all yelled at Cao Jun to go to the left. He negotiated it quite nicely and so did Jon. The last thing we want is for them to come down in the dark and plummet into this crevasse.

Jon has been doing an extraordinary job of fixing lines up this route. He has fixed 600 meters up the couloir and then another 200 meters across the ridge. Jon and I have been basically working together on all the fixing.

What has happened now is we ran out of fixed line and made a phone call to Beijing. And last night we were delivered almost 700 yards, 600 meters, of new fixed line that came up in the middle of the night along with five DVCAM tapes for me to continue filming.

The photography up here has been absolutely beautiful. I’ve spent a lot of time filming storms, avalanches, being avalanched on, and plenty of crevasses — of course I didn’t film today’s. It’s been an extraordinary trip. I have a lot of filming to do in Chengdu and Beijing before I leave the country to put this film together. That leaves me with four more days on the mountain. We’re hopefully going to hit the summit in that time. If we do not I’m still going back to continue filming the other aspects of the production. Making the summit is not as important to me as it is for the Chinese. I have a lot of confidence in Jon that he will get everybody up there.

Tim Boelter

 

audio fileListen to Jon’s voice dispatch from the mountain (2.6 MB MP3 file)

We were all dressed and ready to head out this morning, crampons on, and harnesses on, to go up and find Camp II on the ridge. We were a little weary because last night we got a huge dump of snow. And we wondered about the avalanche danger. As soon as the sunrays hit the top of that ridge the snow started to come down. And we saw this really big avalanche come down and we decided, “OK, forget it, another rest day.” And we ended up having to take everything off again.

But we didn’t waste the day. We ended up actually doing some crevasse diving. We set up a nice belay and lowered ourselves into a crevasse and climbed out. Tim had a great time down there filming because crevasses are so beautiful the way the sunlight refracts down in the ice. That was our day’s activity.

Our cook left to get new shoes because his feet were freezing. So later in the afternoon we all went in and made dinner. I cooked up about 30 strips of bacon and Cao Jun made dinner. It was the best dinner we’ve had so far up here at our glacier camp.

Now we’re in our tent. It’s just been getting colder and colder every night. I don’t know how cold it is out but I’d say maybe near zero degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t get light out here until about 7:30 and it gets dark about 7:00. So we have about 12 hours of sunlight. It’s going to be a very cold climb.

Hopefully we’ll have a nice night. It won’t snow. And tomorrow we’ll get up early again and go find Camp II. That’s all for now.

Goodnight.

Jon Otto

 

audio fileListen to Jon’s voice dispatch from the mountain (3.3 MB MP3 file)

This mountain is turning out to be a lot more formidable than we thought. We thought as soon as we got up to the top of the ridge then it would be pretty straightforward — the Japanese couloir was the hard part. But now it seems like the ridge is going to be the hard part. And the tricky part is trying to find a place to put a camp up there. It’s just overhanging cornices it seems the whole way.

Tomorrow we’re going to go up and lead out as far as the ridge, for 200 yards or more and hopefully find some place we can dig in to put up a camp.

Height-wise we’re going to be actually closer to the summit than we are now on the ridge. From there it will be less than 200 vertical feet to the summit, which isn’t much but it can still take awhile. This type of climbing can sometimes take longer to go down than it can to go up if you’re going alpine style. But we’re still going to be fixing rope.

And speaking of fixing rope, the rest of the team went up the ridge today and all got a little bit scared and came down. There were wild phone calls, and a lot of excitement, and a lot of phone calls made on their cell phones, and it looks like we’re going to be flying in 500 or 600 more meters of fixing line from Beijing tomorrow morning. It will be met at the airport, and we’re going to have a friend drive that out here for six hours. Then it’s going to be taken up by porters to our basecamp and hopefully arrive the day after tomorrow. Which is pretty good I’d say — two-day direct delivery to the glacier camp.  And with more snow pickets and webbing. So that’s what’s happening. Whether it will make it here in time — we may make the summit before the rope arrives. We’ll see what happens though.

Three nights ago it snowed pretty heavy and that caused a bunch of build up on the mountain. And it didn’t really come off. The day before yesterday we went up to fix line again. I was a little worried about the avalanche. We thought if we headed out early in the morning then it wouldn’t be that bad. But this mountain has no mercy. And as Tim said we just got plastered.

It was still pretty early in the morning and we were going up the first part of the fixed line up the icefall, which is only 40 feet. And a little fluff came down and I jokingly said to Tim, “You just want to catch a huge avalanche taking me out on film.” And then 30 seconds, a minute later this huge, huge powder avalanche came down. Good thing I was on the fixed line. It just smothered me. They start from way up high in the couloir on the ridge and come down the center of the couloir. But it’s a good thing it’s soft powdered snow. The force is still pretty good though and it looks impressive. And I’m glad there wasn’t any rock in there, or ice chunks. In about the hour we were up there I got smothered by four big avalanches. And one of them Tim and I were in together. We were blocked slightly by overhanging rock. That was the beginning of that morning.

We ended up fixing another two thirds up the couloir. And then yesterday we finished fixing up to the ridge. And the sunset was just incredible. It was actually the best day we’ve ever had here. There were hardly any clouds. Alpine glow was also incredible. So that’s what’s going on here right now.

Ooh, the glacier just cracked under us. That’s exciting.

Tell Xuehua, my wife, that I miss her a bunch and I got all her text messages.

The ridge is at 18,600 feet and it looks like we might be able to find a camp between there and 18,900 feet. We hope. So that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.

Jon Otto

 

From glacier camp at 16,450 feet

Yesterday Jon and I went up the face of the couloir fixing the lines. We made it very close to the ridge. But we had 5 to 6 inches of snow the day before. That created avalanche hazards.

When Jon was on the ice face he was hit with several avalanches. I was hit as well with several. Fortunately we were both on the fixed line at the time, so we were able to hang on, hunker down, and wait them out. The snow is soft, dry, and powdery, so it’s not the kind of snow that will kill you in an avalanche. But it certainly is the kind that will scare you. I got all of it on film and almost had the camera swept away. But I did get good footage. I know — I shouldn’t be thinking about filming at a time like that, but that was my instinct.

This morning Jon is on his way back up to hopefully reach the ridge. Jon’s been doing an excellent job fixing the lines. My feet are frost nipped from yesterday, so I’m staying back momentarily. But I hope to follow him within the hour.

Tim Boelter

 

audio fileListen to Tim’s voice dispatch from the mountain (2.3 MB MP3 file)
From glacier camp at 16,450 feet

Hello. This is Tim Boelter reporting from glacier camp, Camp I, on Siguniang. It’s November 4th, Thursday. Today we are taking a rest day. Jon Otto, Ma Yihua, and Kang Hua are staying down today while four other members of the Chinese contingent go up.

Yesterday we climbed up to 17,700 feet and fixed lines in the couloir The first two hours of the climb was through treacherous postholing. I mean we were postholing up to our knees and at times up to our crotches. We had to cross three bergschrunds and the only way we knew we were crossing the bergschrunds is the fact that our feet would keep going and there’d be nothing but empty space below that. We did make good progress.

Today there was a beautiful sunrise. However, we’re now in clouds and the temperature has dropped. At nighttime the temperature usually goes below 10 degrees below zero. When the sun is not out the temperature drastically drops. So one minute you’re in the sun and it’s 60 degrees and you’re sweating. And the next minute you’re absolutely freezing.

Two nights ago Jon Otto was making a dispatch and we heard a violent avalanche coming down. We really didn’t know if we were in the path of it. Both of us jumped up. I got out of my sleeping bag without even unzipping. We both stormed out into the night with just our underwear on. We were very fortunate. The avalanche wasn’t anywhere in our path, but it was very loud and it scared the hell out of us to be honest with you.

Today is a beautiful day. We’re taking a rest. I can see four dots right at the base of the icefall (the Chinese contingent), which has to be negotiated before going up into the couloir.

Jon Otto did a fantastic job of leading the icefall. Then we continued up. I lead a section where we fixed line up to our highpoint and that’s where we’re at now. We’re hoping these guys will continue up through the couloir and possibly get close to the ridge. We don’t think they’re going to get to the ridge. They’re moving quite slowly today.

But it’s absolutely a fantastic place. The views are incredible—probably the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen in the mountains. The filming I’m doing here is incredible. We hope to finish this film by year’s end.

Things are going good here. We’re all healthy. We have quite the glacier camp here. We have a cook up here now. You really can’t beat that. It’s like an expedition to the big mountains in the Himalayas even though we should be doing this alpine style.

Tim Boelter

 

We walked from basecamp to our glacier camp today at 16,450 feet in two hours time. We are camped near a beautiful crevasse directly under the Japanese Couloir, our mouths watering in anticipation of the route we’ll start fixing line on tomorrow. Because our team is fairly large we decided to fix the entire couloir all the way up to the ridge. China has a history of expedition-style climbs and that is the approach we are taking this time, unlike last year when we attempted Siguniang alpine style, which it is very suited for. Old habits are hard to break.

The sunset tonight was….. Oh, shit….

We just bolted out of our tent in the cold of the night -- it’s after 10 p.m. -- because of the terrifying sound of a large avalanche. But we are now back in the tent continuing this dispatch and in little worry of our surroundings.

The sunset tonight was a rare treat. I believe this area offers some of the most beautiful and exciting climbing in the world. From our camp we can see across the valley to numerous unnamed and unclimbed peaks between 17,000 and 19,000 feet high. This whole region is speckled with peaks like that. They offer routes that are walk-ups, glacier ascents, big walls, long ice gullies, and more. There’s something for everyone.

Most of Sichuan Province (or eastern Tibet) is Tibetan, Qiang, and Yi nationalities. And the local flora and fauna is some of the most diverse in the world.

Jon Otto

 

The whole gang arrived at basecamp a couple days ago, old climbing buddies and friends, some that I haven’t seen for a few years. It’s a fun reunion.

These are some of China’s most proficient alpine climbers and mountaineers with many years of experience.

There’s Ma Yihua. He’s from the Arête Alpine Instruction Center (AAIC) out of Chengdu, China. AAIC is China’s first guide company dedicated to teaching all aspects of alpine, rock, and ice climbing.

My good friend Cao Jun is here. He’s also a new father of a nine-week-old baby boy. We got to know each other in 1990 through the Peking University mountaineering club. We climbed a 24,750-foot mountain together in 1991 using canvas and fur climbing boots and other completely useless gear knowing nothing about high altitude.

There’s Chen Junchi who gained fame by his 2002 ascent of Mt. Everest, but prefers remote, shorter, and steeper mountains.

Kang Hua flew in from Lhasa, Tibet. He works at the Tibet Mountain Guide School that trains young Tibetans to work on 8,000-meter peaks as “Sherpas,” porters, and cooks.

Our other two Chinese team members are Jia Guiting “Rock Stud” and Gang – an overall solid climber.

Jon Otto

 

From Siguniang basecamp

The full climbing team joined Jon and me here at basecamp two days ago. So far the weather has been miserably cold. Yesterday we had clouds and snow all day, so most of the day was spent packing and preparing for the push up the mountain.

Two days ago Jon and I climbed up to 15,200 feet and built a platform on the glacier. It was striking how much the glacier has changed since we were here last year.

This morning Jon and I and two Chinese climbers are going up to cache gear at 16,200 feet. The satellite phone will stay at basecamp, so we’ll be out of touch until we return from the cache.

When I climbed Cho Oyu back in 2000 there was a Chinese climber on our team named Chen. In an amazing coincidence, when the full team joined us here on Siguniang two days ago Chen was one of the climbers. It was a great surprise to see a familiar face.

Well that’s it for now. It’s morning here and we’re off to carry a cache.

Tim Boelter

 

audio fileListen to Jon’s voice dispatch from the mountain (2.7 MB MP3 file)
From Siguniang basecamp at 14,800 feet

The advanced climbing team consisting of Tim Boelter, Jon Otto, two guides in training, one cook, and one porter reached basecamp yesterday evening. Yesterday morning just after dawn we stumbled through the downstairs of our rustic Tibetan guesthouse for breakfast. That was at Rilong Town at 10,700 feet, the jump off point for the hike to basecamp. It was a typical breakfast of a boiled egg, bread, rice porridge, and pickled cabbage.

After breakfast we pulled all our gear out to be loaded on the horses. Our gear consisted of 23 duffels (each 55 pounds), four large basecamp tents, two 60-pound propane tanks, a generator, gasoline, three live sheep, and other miscellaneous items. All this stuff was loaded onto 16 horses—including the three sheep, which were all strapped onto one horse, bahing.

The gear was first shuttled into Changping Valley to a field named Ganhiazi then loaded onto the backs of 28 porters for the long, steep climb up a narrow valley to basecamp.

The walk up the valley to basecamp starts in tropical vegetation, passes through an evergreen forest, then high-altitude meadows, and then finally up onto a moraine where basecamp is located.

About 600 yards from basecamp our porters went on strike. It was late in the afternoon and they didn’t want to get back after dark, or at least that was their excuse. They all dropped their loads and said they didn’t even care at all if they got paid. They were just going down, and that was that. Oh well, not really much you can do about that.

Today we spent the whole morning shuttling loads from where the porters dropped everything back up to basecamp. And then the entire afternoon was spent setting up basecamp.

But, I must say, we have a decked out basecamp—very expedition style. It’s total overkill for a 6,000-meter peak. But can’t complain. Our basecamp layout consists of one large sleeping tent, one large cooking/eating tent, and one large tent to store all our gear in. All tents have indoor electrical lighting. And our cook made a fantastic lamb and potato stew for dinner.

Tomorrow we go to our glacier camp. “We” consisting of 6 porters, our two guides in training, Tim and me.

Jon Otto

 

It is 4:10 pm here in Rilong. The valley looks entirely different then it did in October last year. The trees are yellow and winter is closing in. I couldn’t film from up on the ridge like I did last year, the clouds are once again shrouding the valley and the mountain.

We spent the entire day repacking gear for the thirty plus porters, the packs had to weigh 50 pounds each. This is almost like a trip to the Himalayas. The Chinese have packed everything, including beer and Coca-Cola.

Tomorrow we leave for the mountain, it should take us about nine hours to reach the basecamp. I just hope the mountain is in good shape, so far it has been socked in. The rest of the team will arrive tomorrow and won't be up the hill for another day after that. The climb officially begins on the 1st of November and should be over by the 14th.

Tim Boelter

 

It is 8:13 am on Wednesday here in Chengdu. We are packing the equipment and getting ready to leave for the mountain. It was a total of 18 hours flying and two days of travel to get here.

Mountain Hardwear, one of our sponsors was very generous. It was like a shopping day for equipment. I got nice pants, a jacket, and gaitors.

This is going to be a big expedition—probably about 30 porters going up the hill to bring in the massive amounts of equipment. Jon is thinking about doing the climb lightweight alpine style, but the Chinese want to fix the entire colouir (the place where all the rock fall came down on us last year).

This section is 400 meters high, about 1,500 feet. We will set up camp on the glacier like last time, and it will become the official basecamp. We may set up another camp at the base of the colouir (maybe not). The next camp will be at the ridge about 5,600 meters or roughly 18,300 feet. From there we may try to strike the summit. So we won't have but two or three camps on the mountain. We will have a generator for charging the sat phone and equipment.

There will be seven of us climbing, and five basecamp support people. Two of the support people work for Jon, another is a cook, another is a reporter, and another is just there. I'll be the only person who doesn’t speak Chinese.

Tim Boelter

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